We are re-Lenting these days. This joyful season of grace and hope is a call to our souls to come alive again. We gather at the Eucharist, with the community who are all in the same human condition of thirsting for living water.
We prepare for Easter as we prepare for the Eucharist. For some, the weekend liturgy is a kind of surprise that the week has flown by. For many, Holy Week, the Easter Vigil and the celebration of the day of Christ’s Resurrection will come too quickly and so be a spiritual surprise. As we rake away the wreckage of winter’s clumsy walkings through our part of the world, we are invited to allow grace to mend, heal, form and enliven our souls as we recover from our own clumsy walkings through life. Life is coming soon!
In the sordid history of these United States there have been many waves of new-comers, immigrants, they are called. As the Jews made their way into North America, signs in store-windows would read, “Help Wanted, Jews need not apply.” Then the Irish in their turn would read, “Job openings, Irish need not apply.” Suspicion needs distance as does prejudice. It has been and still is our human condition of not fulfilling our human dignity. Slavery has been a favorite means to forcibly enlist enemies or suspects into submission. The Egyptians had the Jewish people enslaved and these applied to God for help.
What we hear in the First Reading of this, the Third Sunday of Lent, is God’s attentiveness to the Jew’s applying for work. They had been doing slave-labor in Egypt, but had been crying out for God to do a Great Work. Moses was doing his work of being a watcher of sheep when this strange event of God’s working attracted Moses’ attention. The “burning Bush” became a turning-point of his life and the plight of the Jews. The Bush spoke and Moses listened. The Bush burned, but, like God’s ever-lasting love, was not consumed.
God was about to do a “second act of creation”. The creation of the world was a pretty decent job, but for the Jewish people, their coming forth from the chaos of slavery and being form into the One and Holy People of Israel was even more a work of creative love. God’s ways, after the original creation seems to do the works of God through the bodies and minds of the women and men of faith. Moses is such a body-mind person and as with most humans whom God has called to work, he had questions and doubts.
God, through the bush reveals a name by which God sends Moses and which name will remind the Israelites of the for-everness of God. God, like the bush, just is, and will be. God’s “I-Amness” is how God wants to be and do. God is the Holy One of their ancient faithful leaders, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This trio is the major credential for belief. The ancient and new God is employing Moses to do the new work of the “new creation”.
The Gospel begins with the relating of two news events of the time to Jesus which help to form the context for some direct words of call to these listeners. Then Jesus finishes His work with a picturesque parable.
When sickness, deformity, or something tragic and terrible happened, there was a belief that those afflicted were guilty of something. Lepers must have sinned. The man who was born blind, must have sinned or at least his parents. Eighteen people in Jerusalem had a tower fall on them. They must have been terribly guilty. Pilate had some people killed and their blood mingled, mockingly, with the blood of the sacrifices in Jerusalem. Were they more guilty than anybody else? Jesus turns their questions back on them. There seems to be plenty of guilt around and plenty of work of repenting to do as well.
The poignant parable presents Jesus as the patient and petitioning husbandman. Three years the owner has come looking for figs from his tree. No fruit has been found, so the owner requests to have the tree chopped down. The gardener asks for one more year of hard work and then judgment can be made.
Jesus has been hard at His public work for three years, laboring to bring forth, not just repentance, but the fruits of repentance. Jesus is directing this parable to all His hearers, inviting them to turn their old ways into the new creation of His kingdom.
Jesus is also the Gardener and His labors-of-love are not consumed or extinguished, again as with the Bush. We are living in that “one more year”, not of time, but of God’s laboring love. It is not the bottom of the ninth inning, nor time for the last-second shot at salvation. I Am Who Am is laboring to bring about the Kingdom of Justice with the fruits of compassion and mercy. Jews, Irish, even Jesuits, need to apply for God’s works of mercy. We all need to apply for entrance into this “fig-tree garden” where Jesus is laboring for us to be more fruitful.
Lent is the part of the “one-more-year” during which we can apply for God’s assistance to bring us more and more to life. More life means more daily actions of being who we are and setting aside slaverish patterns of fruitless self-establishment. We apply for this help through the sacraments, personal prayer, and allowing Lent to be the “joyful season” of our coming alive to being God’s new creation again.
“I will prove my holiness through you. I will gather you from the ends of the earth; I will pour clean water on you and wash away all your sins. I will give you a new spirit within you, says the Lord.” Ezekiel 36, 23-26
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